There are innumerable things to make one depressed these days. Oil spills, a dysfunctional economy, worsening political extremism, and an awful long-term environmental outlook. Fortunately for me, I have an antidote that keeps me upbeat, something special and beautiful that keeps me optimistic about the human condition, the human mind, and the power of thinking. I apparently have a high enough public profile that I receive something like “fan mail.” People share their ideas with me.
Many are just ideas — not well-developed, and thousands of hours and many over-turnings of the original idea away from becoming an idea that will change the world in the manner in which the thinker hopes. Which is not to say they’re bad ideas; I don’t think any ideas are bad. Ideas are just ideas, things to play with, things to inspire, thought experiments. “Wouldn’t it be cool if?” “If only I had a …” “The world really needs a … !”
I get all these ideas sent to me, but I’m not sure what people think I’m going to do with them. I’m struggling to get through my own pile of ideas! I keep mine in a stack of numbered notebooks, and look at them every New Year’s Eve to remind myself that there is more to do next year, including ignoring a lot of the ideas that were good at the time but silly upon reflection.
A lot of the ideas people send me are accompanied with a note: “I hope you can do something with this idea. I don’t have the resources, but I know the world needs it.” I really, really love those — but more on that later. The ideas I don’t like are the ones with a note like this: “I have this idea, and it’s so good, you’ll have to promise me all sorts of things before I tell you about my idea.” No thanks. Keep your idea and your paranoia and don’t send me intellectual extortion of that kind.
To all the people who send me ideas saying, “Please do something with this idea,” I thank you. I can’t promise you that I’ll do something with them (like I said before, I’m struggling with my own), but I thank you anyway. And the next best thing is to celebrate you and your ideas. Congratulations! You have ideas, and what’s more, you have generosity. You could just sit at home and watch television, but you don’t. You tinker about, having ideas.
One of my favorite correspondents is a fellow in prison. Yes, prison. I don’t know what he did to get there (let’s assume it was an unpaid traffic infringement), but here’s the thing: he’s a guy, in prison. Society has given him the ultimate “no thank-you” and locked him up. But from within that prison, he still has the audacity, and the hope, to have ideas. Not ideas for him to escape prison — no, these are his ideas that he feels could benefit humanity! And right there is the reason my eyes well up with every one of these letters. People believe that their ideas can help the world. And they do! There is nothing more beautiful, more generous, more hopeful.
To all of you out there with ideas, I salute you. Keep having those ideas. Some of those ideas will make it. Some of them will cure cancer. Some of them will make a better dishwasher. Your hope is mine, the hope that with the collection of our ideas, good and ill-formed, we’ll make the world a better place for us and our children to live in.
I have a wonderful friend, Dan Paluska. He has ideas — lots of them. He’s got some wisdom, too. He categorizes the world of technology and ideas into two kinds: good practical ideas and technologies (things you use every day), and “smiley face technologies.” I love the very concept of the latter. When I first heard him describe it, I naturally asked, what are these smiley face technologies? He said, “The Slinky, Pac-Man, rubber duckies — you know, the things that aren’t necessarily useful for anything other than putting a smile on your face.“
So here’s what I ask. Don’t just concentrate on good, practical ideas for saving a small or large piece of the world. Be sure to include the odd “smiley face technology.” If we’re going to celebrate any ideas at all, we should also celebrate the ones that have no purpose other than making us smile. We do have a lot of problems that need ideas, but we shouldn’t be so serious about humanity’s purpose as to forget that making people smile and inventing silly things might actually be the highest purpose of all.
This column first appeared in MAKE Volume 23 (July 2010), on page 13.
From the pages of MAKE Volume 23:
MAKE Volume 23, Gadgets
This special issue is devoted to machines that do delightful and surprising things. In it, we show you how to make a miniature electronic Whac-a-Mole arcade game, a tiny but mighty see-through audio amp, a magic mirror that contains an animated soothsayer, a self-balancing one-wheeled Gyrocar, and the Most Useless Machine (as seen on The Colbert Report!). Plus we go behind the scenes and show you how Intellectual Ventures made their incredible laser targeting mosquito zapper — yes, it’s real, and you wish you had one for your patio barbecue. All this and much, much more.
This week’s column is a fun one. Previously I rounded up comic book characters who are also makers. Hundreds of additional suggestions flooded the comments — you can see them all here (comments). Some of the characters were from TV shows so I promised we’d at least have a “best maker TV show” roundup at some point, and here it is! A few parents emailed me saying they wanted to encourage their kids who loved comics (and comic-based movies) to get into making things, and had used the list as a “playlist” for which comics to pick up. Since many of these TV shows are not on the air anymore, but are available on Netflix, Hulu, cable, DVD, etc., they are excellent and sneaky ways to inspire kids who really like to watch TV/videos to go on to making things. So without further ado, it’s showtime! I picked my top 10 or so and invite you to post up yours (and why) in the comments!
These are in (mostly) alphabetic order, but at the end I pick my favorite of all time — you can decide if I’m correct :)
The A-Team is an American action adventure television series about a fictional group of ex-United States Army Special Forces personnel who work as soldiers of fortune, while on the run from the Army after being branded as war criminals for a “crime they didn’t commit”.
Despite being thought of as mercenaries by the other characters in the show, the A-Team always acted on the side of good and helped the oppressed. The show ran for five seasons on the NBC television network, from January 23, 1983 to December 30, 1986 (with one additional, previously unbroadcast episode shown on March 8, 1987), for a total of 98 episodes.
It remains prominent in popular culture for its cartoon-like use of over-the-top violence (in which people were seldom seriously hurt), formulaic episodes, its characters’ ability to form weaponry and vehicles out of old parts, and its distinctive theme tune.
..In order to escape, the A-Team will usually construct a weapon, often in the form of a vehicle, of sorts from their available resources. This is detailed in a musical montage focusing on the team’s hands and the tools used. The escape will be successful and the antagonist will be defeated with use of the new weapon. The team’s opponents are rarely hurt, as bullets miss their targets and the enemies manage to evade or survive, unscathed, numerous explosions.
I’m glad we’re kicking it off with The A-Team. A great example of “good guys” that help others; although there was a lot of battle, no one really got killed. In each episode, they helped someone and needed to build something to save the day. Hulu has all The A-Team episodes online here. I don’t recall which episode it was, but when I was a kid I tried to make the powered hang glider (didn’t work).
Connections is a ten-episode documentary television series created, written and presented by science historian James Burke.
Connections explores an “Alternative View of Change” (the subtitle of the series) that rejects the conventional linear and teleological view of historical progress. Burke contends that one cannot consider the development of any particular piece of the modern world in isolation. Rather, the entire gestalt of the modern world is the result of a web of interconnected events, each one consisting of a person or group acting for reasons of their own motivations (e.g. profit, curiosity, religious) with no concept of the final, modern result of what either their or their contemporaries’ actions finally led to. The interplay of the results of these isolated events is what drives history and innovation, and is also the main focus of the series and its sequels.
To demonstrate this view, Burke begins each episode with a particular event or innovation in the past (usually ancient or medieval times) and traces the path from that event through a series of seemingly unrelated connections to a fundamental and essential aspect of the modern world. For example, the episode “The Long Chain” traces the invention of plastics from the development of the fluyt, a type of Dutch cargo ship.
When I first met Collin and was trying to get him on board here at MAKE, I explained to others, “He’s like a modern day James Burke.” The appeal for me with Connections was how everything is based on everything else, and the chain of improvements are always unpredictable. YouTube has the complete series here. You can also get the shows on DVD (great gift for anyone who makes anything).
Dirty Jobs is a program on the Discovery Channel, produced by Pilgrim Films & Television, in which host Mike Rowe is shown performing difficult, strange, disgusting, or messy occupational duties alongside the typical employees. A worker or team of workers takes on Rowe as a fully involved assistant for a typical work day, working hard to complete every task as best he can despite discomfort, hazards or repulsive situations. Mike engages in near-constant self-deprecating humor, making what he calls “dirty jokes”, but rarely more than the occasional playful jab at the workers themselves. Nearly every job is even more difficult than he had expected, and this often has him expressing admiration and respect for the workers’ skills and their willingness to take on jobs that most people avoid.
You can watch some of the videos on Discovery.com as well as download the full episodes on iTunes.
And best of all, Mike Rowe was a speaker at Maker Faire Bay Area this year!
A series from MAKE magazine, Twin Cities Public Television, and American Public Television, Make: is a DIY series for a new generation! It celebrates “Makers” – the inventors, artists, geeks and just plain everyday folks who mix new and old technology to create new-fangled marvels. Check out the Episode Guide to watch segments and read descriptions of previous episodes.
I had to include our own show! I think it’s fantastic that John Park, the host, is still working with us here on the site as well! We worked hard to make sure all the episodes are online and will always be free to view. I downloaded them all and put them on USB drives for friends. Above, my favorite segment :)
Mission: Impossible 1966-1973 Series
Mission: Impossible chronicled the missions of a team of secret American government agents known as the Impossible Missions Force (IMF). The leader of the team was Jim Phelps. The series follows the exploits of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), a small team of secret agents used for covert missions against dictators, evil organizations, and (primarily in later episodes) crime lords. On occasion, the IMF also mounts unsanctioned, private missions on behalf of its members. The identities of the organization which oversees the IMF and the government it works for are never revealed. Only rare cryptic bits of information are ever provided during the life of the series.
The show is definitely more on the gadget side, but that was the cool part. The IMF team was always making something, using a cool (impossible) tool or something to beat the bad guys. I recall the team built a go-cart and smuggled folks under a border too. I’m not sure if there’s any place online you can watch them, but they’re on DVD. I am not a fan of the movie series.
Mr. Wizard’s World
Watch Mr. Wizard is an American television program for children in the 1950s, a general science experiments show, that explained the science behind ordinary things. It was briefly revived in 1971, and then later in the 1980s as a program on the Nickelodeon children’s television network as Mr. Wizard’s World.
In the weekly 30 minute show Don Herbert played a science hobbyist, and every Saturday morning a neighbor boy (Jimmy) or girl would come to visit. Mister Wizard always had some kind of laboratory experiment going that taught something about science. The experiments, many of which seemed impossible at first glance, were usually simple enough to be re-created by viewers.
One example was Mr. Wizard’s use of a small axle and two wheels from a toy car or truck to illustrate the refraction of light when crossing the boundary between two transparent media having different refractive indices. He placed the axle, oriented horizontally, at the top of a sloping board having surfaces with two different coefficients of friction, meeting at an angled straight line. As the axle rolled down the incline, one wheel encountered the surface with the different coefficient of friction first. That wheel then started rolling at a different speed, which caused the axle to rotate away from vertical. It was a wonderful mechanical analogy that made understanding the effect of convex and concave lenses intuitive.
I’ve never met a scientist or engineer over 50 who hasn’t claimed Mr. Wizard is partly responsible for who they are today. I like the 1950s series the most, but the Nick series is great too (above). All of the episodes of the show are available on DVD. Here’s a fun roundup of some odd facts about Mr. Wizard.
Don Herbert and his wife developed a traveling assembly program featuring young performers teaching students about science. It’s estimated that the show was presented to about 1.2 million students every year. Some of Mr. Wizard’s shows included teaching kids why cakes rise, how to cook a hot dog by electrocuting it and showing how centrifugal force worked by using a bucket of water.
The series concept was created for the Discovery Channel as Tall Tales or True by Australian writer and producer Peter Rees of Beyond Productions in 2002. Discovery rejected the proposal initially because they had just commissioned a series on the same topic. Rees refined the pitch to focus on testing key elements of the stories rather than just retelling them. Discovery agreed to develop and co-produce a three-episode series pilot. Hyneman was one of a number of special effects artists who was asked to prepare a casting video for network consideration. Rees had interviewed him previously for a segment of the popular science series Beyond 2000 about the British/American robot combat television series Robot Wars. Savage, who had worked with Hyneman in commercials and on the robot combat television series BattleBots, was asked by Hyneman to help co-host the show because, according to Savage, Hyneman thought himself too uninteresting to host the series on his own.
MythBusters blends making stuff, science, and general destruction all in one 30-minute show. MythBusters is likely the most popular show for makers that’s currently in production. Most/all the episodes are available on iTunes and DVD, but I don’t think there’s a free place online to view them. And of course, Adam Savage has been a fantastic speaker at the last few Maker Faires!
The New Yankee Workshop
The New Yankee Workshop is a woodworking program produced by WGBH Boston, which aired on PBS. Created in 1989 by Russell Morash, the program was hosted by Norm Abram, a regular fixture on Morash’s This Old House. The series aired for 21 seasons before broadcasting its final episode on June 27, 2009. The New Yankee Workshop featured the construction of woodworking projects, including workshop accessories, architectural details and furniture projects ranging from simple pieces to complex, high-quality reproductions of antique classic furniture. In the course of 21 seasons, approximately 235 projects were produced. In addition to furniture and cabinets, the show also focused on outdoor projects such as the building of a gazebo, shed, greenhouse, sail boat, flag pole, mail box, cupola, and fences.
Since the show ended, it looks like you can purchase all the plans + DVD from each episode — here’s a good one:
Secret Life of Machines
Just how does a video recorder work? And how about fax machines, cars, washing machines, electric light, telephones, vacuum cleaners, and refrigerators? You’ll find the answers here. This site is designed as a companion to the TV series The Secret Life Of Machines written by Tim Hunkin, and presented by Tim Hunkin and Rex Garrod.
The Exploratorium offers all 18 episodes online in a variety of formats for immediate free viewing or download. Tim has also written for MAKE and has presented at Maker Faire. Tim’s art is fantastic.
The Wild Wild West 1965-1969
The Wild Wild West is an American television series that ran on CBS for four seasons (104 episodes) from September 17, 1965 to April 4, 1969. Developed at a time when the television western was losing ground to the spy genre, this show was conceived by its creator, Michael Garrison, as “James Bond on horseback.” The Wild Wild West told the story of two Secret Service agents: James T. West, the charming gunslinger (played by Robert Conrad), and Artemus Gordon (played by Ross Martin), the brilliant gadgeteer and master of disguise. Their unending mission was to protect President Ulysses S. Grant and the United States from all manner of dangerous threats. The agents traveled in luxury aboard their own train, the Wanderer, equipped with everything from a stable car to a laboratory. James West had served as an intelligence and cavalry officer in the US Civil War; his “cover” during the series is that he is a railroad president. After retiring from the Service by 1880 he lives on a ranch in Mexico. Gordon’s past is more obscure; when he retires in 1880 he goes on the road as the head of a Shakespeare traveling players troupe.
If you saw the show, you wanted to be Artemus Gordon.
The show follows the intelligent, optimistic, laid-back, resourceful secret agent Angus MacGyver, played by Richard Dean Anderson. He prefers a non-violent resolution to violence where possible and refuses to handle a gun. MacGyver works as a troubleshooter for the fictional ‘Phoenix Foundation’ in Los Angeles. Educated as a scientist with a background as a Bomb Team Technician/EOD in Vietnam (“Countdown”), and from a fictional United States government agency, the Department of External Services (DXS), he is a resourceful agent able to solve complex problems with everyday materials he finds at hand, along with his ever-present duct tape and Swiss Army knife.
The show’s writers based MacGyver’s inventions on items they found on location, concepts from scientific advisers John Koivula and Jim Green, and real events.The show offered a monetary prize to people who sent good ideas for the show. A young fan suggested that MacGyver could patch up a vehicle’s radiator by cracking an egg into it. The episode “Bushmaster” was constructed around this trick, and the fan was rewarded (producer Henry Winkler said in a 2005 NPR interview that that was his favorite “MacGyverism”). Although staff read every letter, few usable ideas were obtained in this way.
And last but not least on my favorites list, the best maker TV show of all time is MacGyver, hands down. I’m sure there will be a little debate, but it will only be from people who like to debate. When MAKE started, one of the things we heard was it was the “magazine for MacGyvers” (and variations of that). The more I heard that, the more I knew MAKE was going to really take off.
Lee David Zlotoff is the creator of the TV series MacGyver and we’ve been thrilled to have him write articles for MAKE! CBS has many of the episodes online to view for free.
There are many, many others, so post your favorites in the comments and WHY. I’ll stop in over the next day, and if you post something really good with an explanation, I’ll send you something cool from the Maker Shed :)
Diane spotted this interesting idea from London designer Lucy Norman, who writes:
There is currently no infrastructure set up to recycle the paper from books because the paper is low grade and the glue on the spine must be removed. The Paperback Partition is made from this waste, creating an aesthetically pleasing and interesting divide in a room. It provides both good heat insulation, and acoustic insulation. Research showed that most people felt that books as objects were beautiful and they enjoyed their solidness, colour and texture, which the partition shows off.
I like it as a permanent or semi-permanent addition for an appropriately “bookish” space. I have two comments:
- Obviously, it’s going to be heavy, and hard to move. But then, heavy may have advantages: thermal and acoustic insulation are mentioned. Stacks of books probably make for pretty good low-cost ballistic protection, too.
- I think horizontal stacking is preferable for this use, as shown in the first image, so no one gets confused and thinks they’re looking at an actual bookshelf and/or possibly tries to remove a book from the “shelf” arrangement.
Top 10: Shelves and Shelving
AFOL Marshall Banana built this extremely impressive and faithful Jawa sandcrawler
Minifigscale: 96 cm long, 100.5 cm long (lowered main ramp)
Weight: approximability 20kg
Part count: over 10’000
Powerfunctions: 4 xl motors, 5 m motors, 4 receivers, 4 batterypacks, 22 Lego LED-lights
Powered radio-controlled Functions:
- driving: forward reverse
- main ramp: up and down
- crane: up and down, in and out
- conveyer band: forward and reverse
fully interior on three floors in the front half of the model and a detailed cockpit (removable roof) second crane in the back of the workshop, lighted smelter.
Building and planning time: 9 month
[Via The Brothers Brick]
Explorable Microscopy is an open-source project from Carnegie Mellon University, working to develop software and hardware standards for the scientific application of ultra-high-resolution microscopic-scale digital panoramas of scientific specimens for preservation, forensics, and original research.
In the case of the photograph of the feather, we originally shot 8,000 photographs which took approximately 20 hours to acquire. Since the apparatus is automated, we only need to check the memory periodically and battery power during those 20 hours. The rest of the process for the feather took about 6-8 hours of labor, 18 hours of rendering time, and 8 hours of post-processing computations. This production time resulted in the feather image which has a resolution of over 6 gigapixels or 6,483 megapixels.
I got a chance to meet co-founder Gene Cooper (and helper Scott Van Note) at BAMF 2011, where they were showing off the prototype imaging robot shown here. It’s based on a small CNC milling platform from Probotix. More information is available on the Explorable Microscopy wiki.
The Arduino Cookbook from the Maker Shed lets you create your own Arduino powered robots, toys, remote controllers, alarms, detectors, and many other projects. The Arduino is a simple microcontroller board that lets artists and designers build a variety of amazing objects and prototypes that interact with the physical world. With this book, you can dive right in and experiment with more than a hundred tips and techniques, no matter what your skill level is. Inside you’ll find the examples and advice you need to begin, expand, and enhance your projects right away. The perfect companion to the Ultimate Microcontroller Pack and the Getting Started with Arduino Kit. Also available in .pdf.
We are now accepting entries for the 2nd Annual World Maker Faire New York, September 17 and 18, 2011 at the New York Hall of Science. We look forward to reviewing your application.
• World Maker Faire New York: September 17 and 18, 2011.
• Entry Open Date: June 1, 2011. Please enter early so we can reserve space for your exhibit.
• Entry Close Date: August 8, 2011.
Organized by the staff of MAKE magazine, makezine.com and craftzine.com, Maker Faire is a newfangled fair that brings together science, art, craft and engineering plus music in a fun, energized, and exciting public forum. The aim is to inspire people of all ages to roll up their sleeves and become makers. This family-friendly event showcases the amazing work of all kinds of makers – anyone who is embracing the DIY spirit and wants to share their accomplishments with an appreciative audience.
We encourage you to join the fun and enter a project to exhibit.
[Photo credit: Garrett Mace]
If you’re looking for more control than the average shutter release cable, then you should check out this DIY Bluetooth shutter release from YouTuber Scott Wallace. Using an Arduino Uno, BlueSmirf Bluetooth transceiver, and some perfboard, Scott fashioned a device capable of accepting commands over the air from his Android handset. [via nikonrumors]
The camera I’m using is a Nikon D90, but this same controller would work on all Nikons that have the same shutter release/GPS port as the D90. Additionally, I’ve read about Canon and Sony DSLRs also having a wired shutter-release port that operates in the same way, you’d just have to find the pin-out of those ports and make your own connector .
On the Android side, right now I’m using SENA BTerm as the Bluetooth terminal. This isn’t a long term solution, but for now is a proof-of-concept that camera control from the phone is possible.
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